The Commerce Department reported(.pdf) that U.S. retail sales rose more than forecast last month, up 0.2 percent in December after a downwardly revised gain of 0.4 percent in November, however, the multi-month trend is clearly lower as shown below.
Grocery store sales and bargain hunting amid year-end discounting at clothing stores and internet retailers drove the overall increase as auto sales fell sharply.
Sales of motor vehicles and parts fell 1.8 percent after rising 1.9 percent the month prior and, excluding autos, overall sales rose 0.7 percent in December. Excluding both automobile and gas station sales, receipts rose 0.6 percent.
Food and beverage sales led advancing categories with a gain of 2.0 percent, followed by an increase of 1.8 percent at clothing stores and 1.4 percent for nonstore retailers. Curiously, sales at electronics and appliance stores fell 2.5 percent last month after dropping 2.1 percent the month prior and this category is now down 1.4 percent from a year ago.